Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 3, 2013

Traverse City won't pursue fund for parks

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — City officials likely will bench — at least for a year — a proposal to tap the Brown Bridge Trust Fund for $2.2 million over five years to improve city parks.

City Manager Jered Ottenwess recommended city commissioners scrap a plan to ask voters to amend the city charter on the November ballot when they meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.

Ottenwess sided with two city committees whose members recommended spending a year to better define the types of park projects that would be funded. Some city commissioners agree.

“I think it will be more successful with an educated effort once we determine what we want to fund,” said city Commissioner Jim Carruthers. “It’s become a free-for-all and there is this big wish list from everyone that we will have to pare down.”

The Brown Bridge Advisory Committee has a wish list of $947,000 worth of projects. Old Towne Neighborhood Association wants to create new pocket parks in their neighborhood, while Central Neighborhood wants funding to make Hannah Park on the Boardman River a more natural environment.

The Parks and Recreation Commission has a capital improvement list of its own, but the city planning commissioners found their list lacked sufficient information and requested a better process to prioritize projects.

Royalty payments from oil and gas leases at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area created the fund of about $13.2 million, and interest pays for general city operations. A ballot proposal would ask voters to cap the trust fund at $12.5 million and divert royalty payments for five years toward city parks. City staff estimates the cap would create about $2.2 million for parks.

Brian Haas, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said in a memo to the city commission that after two public hearings there is not enough time to study and prioritize funding for a November ballot. The commission proposed to set up an ad hoc committee of representatives from the city, parks, and planning commissions.

Mayor Michael Estes also wants to set up an ad hoc committee, but his would hold just three city commissioners. Estes proposes to set up the committee after the November city commission election and shoot for the August 2014 primary election with November 2014 the fallback date.

“We’re getting limited responses back now and we need to have the full support of the neighborhoods,” Estes said. “I know what I want, but I need to hear what the neighborhoods want.”

Deni Scrudato, chairwoman of the Brown Bridge advisory committee that first proposed tapping the fund, also favors waiting a year.

“We were looking for funding, especially now that the pond is gone and there is so much more exposed bottom land,” Scrudato said. “But it’s taken on the appearance of a run-away train.

“We were a little concerned that some of the Brown Bridge Quiet Area needs might be lost in the shuffle,” she said.